Posted July 19th 2011 at 5:53 am by
in Mondragon

The Revolution Wore A Tailored Business Suit

A group of American community and business leaders is posting a blog series from Mondragón, Spain, home to a 100,000 employee-strong worker-owned cooperative, from July 17th to 23rd.

Photo by MONDRAGON-Corporation on flickr.

We in the civil rights movement have spent that past decades trying to bring about justice and end oppression by organizing and voting, changing laws and bringing lawsuits. In the meantime, bankers seeking higher returns for capital and higher bonuses for themselves have tanked the entire world economy by playing the equivalent of roulette instead of investing in productive enterprises. And corporations are extracting the value of human work, of resources and of the earth itself, all to produce increasing returns on capital, which flows around the planet in search of the best opportunity to exploit workers and extract resources.  So a group of civil rights and other progressive activists have come to Mondragon Spain to learn about a different way to pursue justice.

In a somewhat isolated corner of Spain, a high tech, savvy network of cooperative enterprises is thriving with a different set of values.  Out of the Basque region of Spain, an area whose residents were subjected to discrimination on the basis of language and ethnicity, has grown a set of enterprises that produce billions in revenues for over 80,000 worker/members while caring for the environment and pursuing collective welfare.

The key is a shared set of values. The values that struck me most are principles no. 3 and 4, a belief in “the Sovereignty of Labor” and “the Instrumental and Subordinate Nature of Capital.” If only we could get the rest of the world to work on these principles. Every worker/member earns a living wage, the highest paid managers in each co-op earn between 4.5 and 9 times the lowest worker salary and capital is owned equally by the members, who get a reasonable return but are required to reinvest most of their dividends to keep the businesses capitalized, and to support expansion, education and incredible research and development.

These are not wild-eyed radicals demonstrating at the WTO. The managers are MBA degree holders, dressed in tailored business suits.  The leaders are mostly engineers, creating jobs and wealth following the principles of their founder, a priest who believed in equality and cooperation.  THIS IS TRULY REVOLUTIONARY.

Post by Penda Hair. This post is part of a series on the Mondragon Corporation.

One response to “The Revolution Wore A Tailored Business Suit”

  1. Rodney North says:

    At Equal Exchange we’ve been trying to pursue, and cultivate, justice through business for 25 years – so it is encouraging to see more people – including social justice activists – begin to recognize the potential for change that exists IN the marketplace. But it won’t happen if activists are only on the outside of the market looking in (and protesting & lobbying & advocating, etc.) Some of us also have to get INTO the marketplace, and start companies and co-operatives that will be run according to human-centered & ecological values. We can’t wait for others to do this for us.

    Our particular approach has been to not only build a successful, democratically managed, worker-owned co-operative, but that it be a Fair Trade enterprise working in solidarity with small farmer co-op’s around the world, specializing in organically grown foods. Further we know our best chance to promote change is to actually use our success (we’re profitable and have grown for 25 straight years) to demonstrate the viability of our model and encourage others to adopt it as much as they can.

    Lastly, one very encouraging sign is that we often speak at local business schools (Harvard, MIT’s Sloan school, Babson College, etc) and we consistently find a significant % of the next generation of MBA students to be very open to our example, and excited by it. So there really does seem to be great potential.